I am currently a production engineer working in a large Chlor-alkali production unit. I graduated with my BS in chemical engineering almost 2 years ago and have since taken and passed the FE exam. At this time my interests lie in process design and operation, but I can't rule out management as a potential path for me down the road. In my time at the company, I have found that no chemical engineers at my site hold their PE in the chemical discipline. There are a few that have their licesnce in environmental or process controls, but none in the core chemical engineering sense. That made me wonder about the benefits of holding a PE license while employed by a chemical company in the private sector. There are undoubtedly different advantages to becoming a certified PE versus acquiring a MBA or masters in engineering, and I was hoping for some feedback on how more experienced engineers have made the decision to pursue one, or multiple types of advanced degree/licensure. Also, it would be great if you could provide some insight as to how your choice has impacted your career progression.
Different companies have different requirements for their engineers and managers. For example, my company typically does not require MBA for the managers or EIT/PE for the chemical engineers (unless the engineer is required to sign or stamp legal engineering documents). What we look for in candidates when we hire them for these positions is relevant past experience or skill set. Showing examples of successfully completing a technical project or leading a high performance team speaks volumes about the candidate's strengths. In other words, results are more important than titles.
Having that said, if you want to work in R&D or design, you will find the experience acquired while studying for EIT/PE relevant because it will motivate you to polish your knowledge of the theory and will make you comfortable with applying it when performing complicated calculations. Moreover, if you want to become a non-engineering people manager (e.g. supply chain, compliance, and finance), you will find the MBA training relevant because it will introduce you to concepts that are not covered when you were in the engineering school.
My suggestion is that if you like your current company, reach out to your colleagues and find out what projects they are working on. If you find anything interesting have a conversation with your manager to see if you can dedicate a part of your time to that project. After you spend some time on that project, you will find out which skills are required for that line of work, and then you can plan for furthering your academic education if that is needed for your career development.
I am recently retired but got my PE as soon as possible after graduating from college. That required a four year waiting period back then. I worked in oil refining my entire career, except for a stint as the company lobbyist, and did design work and later plant and corporate management. Out of dozens of chemical engineers I worked with only three had a PE license so there certainly was no career impediment to those without. However I always got to put it on my business card and resume and it gave my personal brand a little extra zip. It also helped build my credibility as a lobbyist and on the occasions where I testified in litigation involving our company it helped impress the jury. Now that I'm retired it helps me in my side gigs, expert witnessing, lobbying and regulatory work. Politicians, lawyers and regulators are much more impressed by titles and credentials than are other engineers.
So there is no downside to getting it, I thought it was a pretty easy test that required only a few hours of study (but only if you are using most of your classwork on a daily basis in your job, like I was at the time). Plus, if you fail it nobody will know as long as you don't use current contacts in your application as references. Once you get it the continuing ed requirements are minimal and generally more than satisfied by your job training opportunities. Plus if, like me, you enjoy doing other things outside of the traditional chem engr design work, it has some benefits. I never got an MBA but I think it is of more value than a PE if you get into the corporate world. But of course it also costs much more in time, money and effort to obtain.
Congratulations on passing your FE. Because have a license is rare in our discipline, I have found my PE license useful when seeking a promotion in a current company or looking for a position in a new company. All chemical engineers are talented. A chemical engineer with a professional engineer's license is a rarity. Having a PE license is an easy way to promote oneself. Just my $0.02.
Having spent over 30 years in my engineering career I can say a PE license is always useful. The preparation for the license examination is certainly worthwhile in reinforcing the process engineering training one receives in college. Moreover, this will allow you broaden your base in your career. In future if you want to pursue a career in a consulting industry, or even in manufacturing sector for a career in HSSE, or management, PE license is considered an asset. And, an MBA degree and a PE license are not mutually exclusive.
Somnath Basu, PhD, PE
Global Vice President
Get that PE license in chemical engineering ASAP. You never know where your career will go and there may be times when it will be required for some opportunity you encounter. It is easier to get it now than it will be later. Compared to an MBA or another degree, obtaining and maintaining a PE license is relatively easy. Also, having that PE after your name tells the world that you are an engineer of some standing, and that you are proud to be one.
Neil Yeoman, PE, FAIChE
Get your P.E. as soon as possible. It is credential that will make you stand out in your career. My understanding is that now you can take the test before having 5 years of experience. However, the P.E. license will not be given to you until you reach 5 years of experience once you pass the test (you are given now 3 opportunities to take the test). Check your state board to see if you still have time to register for the April test. If not, you will have to wait until October to take the test. I would also recommend taking one of the prep classes for the test to know what topics to focus on. Some AIChE local sections offer P.E. exam reviews like the South Texas Section.
If you take the test in April, you can focus on starting your masters in the fall!
Mariella Raven, P.E., PMP
Hi Cory, I just want to briefly reiterate what several of the commenters have said. Your PE license is really 'inexpensive career insurance'. One really doesn't know early in a career exactly what path may be followed, I cannot remember anyone advising me in either my undergrad days or graduate work to obtain a PE. The schools I attended (Penn and MIT) were very R&D oriented and probably had very few licensed faculty. Henceforth I did not even consider licensing until quite a few years after I had obtained my Ph.D. I don't think I took and passed the FE until about 10 years after my Ph.D. (I was then working for an A&E firm) and didn't obtain my PE until 21+ years after the Ph.D. I got through everything on my first attempt but it wasn't easy and required a lot of study and company refresher courses. Subsequently I have found it useful in my career to have this additional credential even though I fairly quickly left day-to-day technical work and progressed into technical management. Later in my career when I had become Director, Technical Programming at AIChE I really used both the Ph.D. and P.E. as "door openers" that helped me to gain good rapport with different elements of the volunteer community with which I worked at AIChE. Having a PE was also a requirement that allowed me to start volunteering on NCEES (the association that develops and administers the exams) which has been a enriching part of my professional life for more than 15 years. Therefore although I never worked in R&D and never used my stamp I am grateful that I got both a Ph.D. and P.E. as just the process of obtaining both was immensely educational and gave me helpful insights into different types of chemical engineering communities.
So my advice is to obtain your Ph.D. as soon as you can. Right now the various states differ in when they allow one to stand for the PE. About a dozen allow one to take the PE right after the FE with most of the rest requiring about 4 years of experience. Since you have 2 years of experience you might want to wait and get the full 4 years of experience before going for the PE (there is some data that seems to indicate that passing rates are a bit higher for those with experience as the PE committees do try to include 'experience' questions on exams). Having the PE after 4 years of experience may also help if you later try to apply for a PE in another state through something called comity....which is a whole new issue. Passing rates range from the low 70s to high 70s for 1st time Ch.E. exam takers and really are higher than that for those who are truly serious about passing the exam and put in 'a little work'. So remember it will never be easier in your lifetime than in the next couple years. Good luck.
A P.E. license is "nice to have" if you work in the private sector and, as others have pointed out, a "must" if you work in the "public sector", i.e. your decisions and designs affect the public. The roots of the P.E. license, as we all know, lie in civil engineering, because bridges must not fall down. That is why, in 1977, when I took the FE exam (called the Engineer in Training exam in Massachusetts back then), I had to know some pretty serious civil engineering. Of course, my well rounded curriculum and graduation requirements at UMass Amherst back in 1966-1970 included a statics course and a dynamics course. Enough to help me pass the FE exam the first time. That plus a good review course that I took.
When I applied for a seat for the P.E. exam in 1984 in Massachusetts, I needed "four years of responsible engineering charge." That's a little different than "four years of experience." Other than references, the main way that I had to demonstrate responsible engineering charge was to submit "examples of your work not to exceed one pound." So I stacked up some paperwork on a postage scale in the mail room and kept weighing it until I got to 16 ounces. I got a big manilla envelope, placed the one pound of work into it, along with a copy of my sheep skin, the application and a check for $40 - the filing fee. I have always suspected that the most important piece of paper in the envelope was the $40 check!! Are the requirements the same today?
P.S.: Since retirement 7 years ago, I no longer respond to ASAP. Well, maybe if the house was on fire.